Oaklawn Barn Notes: The “Ring the Bell” Program Returns to Oaklawn to Benefit Aftercare

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, jhoyt@oaklawn.com or (501) 363-4305

Friday, December 09, 2022

Arkansas HBPA President Bill Walmsley watches as Oaklawn President Louis Cella rings the bell last season

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

The “Ring the Bell” Program Returns to Oaklawn to Benefit Aftercare

After some test rings last spring, Oaklawn’s fund-raising efforts for local Thoroughbred aftercare began in earnest Friday afternoon with the opening of its scheduled 68-day live racing season.

The $14,000 raised during the final six days of the 2021-2022 meeting was through the new “Ring the Bell” program, which gives winning connections following each race an opportunity to donate at least $100 toward aftercare.

Money raised is earmarked for the Arkansas Thoroughbred Retirement Program and Rehabilitation Foundation Inc., a collaboration between the Arkansas division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and Oaklawn. It was recently established as a safe path to a second career for Oaklawn-raced horses upon retirement.

Donations are signaled – loudly – by hand ringing a large copper-colored bell hung in the back of the Larry Snyder Winner’s Circle. The idea of intertwining a bell with aftercare was the brainchild of trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs, best known for his work with Whitmore, a seven-time Oaklawn stakes winner and 2020 Eclipse Award winner as the country’s champion male sprinter.

“I wanted to bring attention and give everybody the opportunity to, when they’re at their happiest, they can help right then,” Moquett said. “Ring that bell and it starts up a conversation. ‘Hey, that bell is ringing for the respect and love of the horse.’ The bell is symbolic and it teaches everybody through the whole grandstand that whenever you hear that bell, that means somebody has donated money to the retired racehorse program. We’d like to hear the bell ring every race, every day. What the sound means is we’re helping retired racehorses.”

The Ring the Bell program was officially launched following the third race April 29, when Oaklawn President Louis Cella and Bill Walmsley, a longtime Thoroughbred owner and president of the Arkansas HBPA, each donated $5,000 on behalf of their respective groups. Cella is also a Thoroughbred owner and the son of Oaklawn’s late president, Charles Cella, who campaigned 1995 champion grass horse Northern Spur.

“It’s tough to jumpstart something that is difficult for other horsemen to follow there in Arkansas,” said Louis Cella, who was named Oaklawn’s president following his father’s death December 2017. “They participate in other jurisdictions. Our jurisdiction, our constituents if you will, are not as big and able to take care of the horses like they are in Kentucky, in Florida, in Texas. So, we need to jog them a little bit. I think the bell is a super idea to give everyone that one last pause to say, ‘You know what? This is important for Arkansas.’ ”

Moquett said his inspiration for a bell came from Saratoga, the historic upstate New York venue. A bell in the winner’s circle there is hand rung five times, “precisely” 17 minutes before post time of each race, according to the New York Racing Association. Oaklawn’s version features a prominent three-line engraving – “This Bell Rings for The Love & Respect Of The HORSE!!!” – stacked across the front.

“We think that it’s going to be a really good deal to help raise awareness and funds to do good stuff,” Moquett said. “Nobody is doing it like this. It think this will spark some things across the country.”

Moquett and Jeanette Milligan, Arkansas HBPA executive director, both said they had hoped to begin the program earlier in the 2021-2022 meeting, but the project was delayed because the bell was shipped from Pennsylvania and time was needed to mount it properly. Milligan said the bell was purchased by the Arkansas HBPA.

The Arkansas Thoroughbred Retirement Program uses a nearby farm of longtime Oaklawn pony person Jan Pettinger and her husband, retired jockey Don Pettinger, as a foster home for horses awaiting adoption.

Milligan said 15 horses were on the farm at the end of the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting in early May. That number is now six, according to Oaklawn director of racing Jennifer Hoyt, a point person for the Arkansas Thoroughbred Retirement Program. Hoyt said it costs at least $500 each month to properly care for horses waiting to be rehomed. Second careers for retired Thoroughbreds could range from a stable pony like former Moquett trainee Meanbone, an eventing horse such as 2017 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) winner Inside Straight to a simple pleasure horse for trail riding.

“I think as the game has progressed, everybody’s aware that there’s a lot of horses out there and you’ve got to find a home for them when they’re done competing,” said Robert N. Cline, an Arkansas owner/trainer who made three donations following victories during the final two days (May 7-8) of the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting. “I’ve fed horses for months, waiting to find them a good home. So, we do our best. If we can all chip in and help on the cause, I think we all benefit from that. It’s not hard to talk a guy out of a hundred dollars after he wins a race. Everybody’s happy and cheery. The purses are big enough here that if you’re lucky enough to stagger across there in front, what’s a hundred dollars?”

To increase attention to Thoroughbred aftercare, Oaklawn created the $150,000 Ring the Bell Stakes this year. The 6-furlong race is Saturday.

For more information on the Arkansas Thoroughbred Retirement Program, visit www.ArkansasThoroughbredRetirement.com.

Hart to Hart

The 2022-2023 Oaklawn outlook for trainer Chris Hartman? Quantity and quality.

Hartman said he has 35 stalls this season and is armed with a particularly strong contingent of older male sprinters and promising 2-year-olds.

“We’ve definitely got our best group of horses, as a whole, that I’ve ever had,” said Hartman, Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2015. “They’re all pretty solid. Got some better horses. Got some good 2-year-olds, Two Eagles River, Klassy Bridgette, and some more nice 2-year-olds in the pipeline. I’ve got some that haven’t even started yet, so we’re doing pretty damn good.”

Hartman ($3,797,331 overall through Thursday) has already smashed his previous yearly career high for purse earnings, thanks, in part, to older male stakes-winning sprinters Tejano Twist and Necker Island.

Claimed out of a third-place finish in a Sept. 21 allowance/optional claimer at Churchill Downs for a hefty $125,000, Tejano Twist returned to win the $250,000 Steel Valley Sprint Stakes Nov. 21 at Mahoning Valley in his last start.

Necker Island, who has more than $800,000 in career earnings, won the $75,000 Jeff Hall Memorial Stakes July 24 at Ellis Park and was disqualified from a victory in his next start, the $150,000 Chesapeake Stakes Aug. 16 at Colonial Downs, for stretch interference.

Hartman also trains Kavod, who, in his first start after being claimed for $50,000 at Churchill Downs, won the $150,000 Advent Stakes for 2-year-old sprinters last December at Oaklawn. Kavod is the 2-1 program favorite for the $150,000 Ring the Bell Stakes at 6 furlongs Saturday at Oaklawn. He won the Sept. 21 race at Churchill Downs that Tejano Twist was claimed out of.

Kavod and Tejano Twist are both about to turn 4. Necker Island, 5, was claimed for $100,000 in June 2020 at Churchill Downs and ran ninth in the delayed Kentucky Derby (COVID-19) later that year.

“Yeah, got a problem separating them,” Hartman said. “It ain’t going to be a problem because (trainer) Bobby (Baffert) has been doing this stuff for a minute, so I’m sure I can handle it. I’ve seen the problem when I didn’t have any of them, so that’s the other problem. We’re going to get them all started, hopefully. We freshened up Necker Island and Tejano Twist is in prime form.”

Hartman said he hasn’t selected a next race for Tejano Twist or Necker Island. Oaklawn has two major preps for older sprinters for the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 15 – $150,000 King Cotton Stakes Jan. 28 and the $200,000 Whitmore Stakes (G3) March 18. A new stake for older sprinters, the $150,000 Lake Hamilton, is closing day, May 6.

“I want to tap in the best player at that time,” Hartman said.

Two Eagles Rivers, purchased for $220,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Spring Sale of 2-year-olds in training, won his Oct. 30 career debut at Churchill Downs before finishing second, beaten a neck, by Victory Formation in a Nov. 26 entry-level allowance sprint at Churchill Downs. Victory Formation (2 for 2) is among several highly regarded Kentucky Derby prospects for two-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox.

“He’s probably my best 2-year-old,” Hartman said.

Hartman said Two Eagles River, from the first crop of 2017 Preakness winner Cloud Computing, is a candidate for the inaugural $150,000 Renaissance Stakes at 6 furlongs Dec. 31 at Oaklawn. All races on the New Year’s Eve card are for 2-year-olds.

“We’re going to go sprint and then step him on out,” Hartman said.

Klassy Bridgette, from the first crop of unbeaten Grade 1 winner Army Mule, is entered in Sunday’s seventh race at Oaklawn, a maiden special weight sprint, after finishing second in her first two career starts this fall in Kentucky.

Hartman entered the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting with 185 career victories in Hot Springs.

Jones Winding Down

Trainer Larry Jones traveled from his Kentucky base to Oaklawn late last month to check on his small string overseen by longtime assistant Corey York.

Jones said all seven horses he has in training are at Oaklawn, including six he also owns, as he continues to gradually pare down his once nationally prominent operation. Jones’ numbers have dwindled in recent years, particularly with the downsizing of major client Fox Hill Farm and eventually the death of its head, Rick Porter, in June 2021.

“Phasing out,” Jones, 66, said with a laugh. “I’ve had enough.”

Jones said he still owns three mares and has sent two homebreds to Arkansas trainer Robert N. Cline, one of his former exercise riders, to be broken. But going forward, Jones said, there will be no additions through claims, high-priced sales purchases or private purchases.

“I’ll have two or three a year coming,” Jones said. “Just a piddle deal now, and they’ll quit racing under my name even. I’ll keep them running, as me being trainer right now, but I’ll just hire a trainer. I’ll get somebody to do it and it will probably be Robert down here.”

According to statistics from Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, Jones has 1,198 victories and $56,518,085 in purse earnings since starting his first horse in 1982. His most famous pupils include 2011 Horse of the Year and multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Havre de Grace, champion Proud Spell, Grade 1 winner Hard Spun and another multiple Oaklawn stakes winner, Eight Belles, runner-up against males in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Jones has won the Kentucky Oaks, the country’s biggest prize for 3-year-old fillies, three times (2008, 2012 and 2015).

“We don’t have anything that I’m super high on,” Jones said of 2022-2023 Oaklawn contingent. “We’re just down to horses.”

Jones said his stable was dealt a blow recently when his best horse, multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Bob’s Edge, emerged from a workout with a career-ending leg injury.

Bob’s Edge developed into one of Oaklawn’s top older male sprinters last season after winning the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes and inaugural $200,000 Whitmore Stakes (G3). A 5-year-old gelded son of Competitive Edge, Bob’s Edge won 6 of 18 starts and earned $556,695 in his career.

“He won’t go back to race,” Jones said. “Should not have any problem living. I’m not fixing to take a Grade 3 stakes winner and make a $5,000 claimer out of him. He deserves a better life than that. If I was still in it, doing it, I would say he would be my pony horse. He’s a good-natured horse.”

Jones entered 2022-2023 with 156 career victories, including 24 stakes, at Oaklawn.

Finish Lines

Oaklawn’s annual price rollback promotion is Saturday. Corned beef sandwiches are 50 cents (two sandwiches per customer, per transaction) at participating concession stands/restaurants. Gates open at 11 a.m. (Central). First post is 12:30 p.m. … “Oaklawn Raceday,” featuring David Longinotti, director of Oaklawn Anywhere, and Equibase representative Jeff Taylor, can be heard Saturdays 11 a.m.-11:30 a.m. (Central) during the 2022-2023 meeting on Little Rock, Ark., radio station KABZ-FM 103.7 and www.1037thebuzz.com. … Eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. is scheduled to ride in the Clásico Del Caribe Sunday in Venezuela. The race is among the most prestigious in the Caribbean.